If I had a pound for the amount of times I've replied with these two words in the past 18 months, my husband wouldn't roll his eyes at me as much as he does when another parcel arrives for me at the door. I'd be a very rich woman.
Two words. Two words that distill 18 months of emotions down into a word that is so vague, how can I possibly expect anyone to understand how I'm really feeling.
That's the problem. I've always been a glass half full, optimistic, life and soul of the party kinda girl. The first to arrive, the last to leave. Never one to turn down one more dance, one more drink. So, I've kept up this pretence, that yes, grieving Dad has been hard, but overall "I'm fine". Finding out I carried the #BRCA gene - devastating, but don't worry about me, "I'm fine". Facing a bilateral #mastectomy with reconstruction - horrendous, but "I know I'll be fine". I've got a great team around me, who'll make sure I'm fine......fine fine fine fine.
The absolute honest truth is, I really have struggled at times to convey exactly how this entire journey has made me feel, and truth be told I can't really expect people to truly understand, because how could they - this isn't exactly a typical situation. I can also see, how for some people it could be quite hard to get their heads around, and so I find myself retreating to my default 'fine' status. It's just one word, and it often doesn't open the door for anymore conversation. But, I really want to talk about it. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but have become so worried about other people's reactions, it's easier to say nothing. I worry that people won't respond in the way I need them to. I absolutely do not need to hear that I'm going to have a lovely pair of boobs after this. I 100% do not want to be asked if I have considered x, y, and z - my team of experts take care of this, and I have made my decision after careful consideration. I know many of these comments come from a place of good intention, but it's really key that before you find yourself saying something to someone who is going through a unique and painful (for them) experience, you take a breath and ask yourself "Is this serving me or them?".
So what do I want? I want people to talk to me about it. Ask me questions, that aren't too invasive, but be curious - I'd rather navigate a clunky conversation, than no conversation at all. Check in with me. Understand that this is a traumatic experience ,and be empathetic. More than anything, I really want my feelings validated. This will be a 6-8hr surgery, with an incredibly restrictive recovery that may or may not take up to a year - and I'm talking emotionally as well as physically. It's by no means a walk in the park. Also, after surgery I'd very much like a constant supply of M&S's fruit and nut milk chocolate.
In my HR career, we have always tried to explain the importance to Leaders, that in order to truly understand individuals in their team, they should try to walk a mile in their shoes. But the reality is, until you have lived that experience it's really hard to be able to do that. What you can do though, without any experience, is be compassionate and supportive. That doesn't take much effort and the person on the receiving end will feel heard and understood - that's massive. My friend and I often discuss the importance of being heard and being seen. Never underestimate how important this is.
So as I begin another week of hospital appointments, ticking more boxes that take me one step closer to a surgery date, I'm mentally preparing myself for different sets of outcomes before finding out on Thursday the exact surgery I can begin to prepare for.
When I'm feeling anxious and like things are out of my control, I pop on a podcast (usually a murdery serial killer one), put the lead on my needy Labradoodle and head to Hampstead Heath. So, on that note the dog needs a walk and I've got an episode of In Your Own Backyard to listen to.
Results on Thursday, so I'll update this blog then.
Much love, A x